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Omnichannel vs. multichannel: how to know the difference

Reading Time: 9 minutes

If you’re in commerce or digital marketing, you’ve probably heard of omnichannel and multichannel. And since both involve using more than one marketing channel to engage customers, it might be hard to tell the difference if you’re not an expert.

With that said, these are different terms, and there are reasons why merchants and marketers might want to go with one over the other.

To help you choose the right approach for your business, we’re giving you an in-depth rundown of the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing.

But before we dive in, let’s lay out the definitions for each approach.

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What is multichannel?

Multichannel is the marketing practice of using more than one media channel to communicate with customers and prospects. The channels can include TV, print, social media, email, billboards, display ads, and more.

However, these channels are not necessarily integrated with each other. For example, the content and style of your Facebook ad might be completely different from what you put out on Pinterest or in your promotional emails.

This puts the product or service at the center of the marketing strategy, and the channels work to deliver that message individually. Since each channel functions separately, customers need to go to that specific channel to find the information they want.

In short, each channel in a multichannel strategy works individually and exists as a separate sales opportunity.

What is omnichannel?

Like multichannel, omnichannel also involves multiple channels for customer engagement. In the case of the latter, however, all those marketing channels are integrated with each other in order to create a unified experience for the customer across the board.

In other words, with omnichannel, the customer can seamlessly move between channels on their journey with your brand. Whatever marketing material they see when they visit your website, Facebook page, brick-and-mortar store, or any other channel, will be unified around a single message or concept.

Here are a few simple omnichannel marketing examples that might help paint a clearer picture:

  • A customer gets a text message about a promotion while shopping in-store
  • A shopper is retargeted on Instagram with the product they abandoned in their online shopping cart
  • A promotional email alerts subscribers to check their mailboxes for a physical postcard with discount coupons

Omnichannel vs. multichannel – what is the difference?

The key difference between omnichannel and multichannel is the focal point of your marketing strategy. Omnichannel involves using all available media channels and is centered around the customer, while multichannel means using more than one channel and is centered around the product or service.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet:

Omnichannel vs multichannel marketing (table of the main differences)

As you can see, omnichannel marketing has the customer at the center. The focus is on the needs of the customer, and the aim is to provide them with a personalized message while ensuring a seamless, unified experience. This allows the customer to easily access information from any of the channels, which are all connected to each other.

For example, if they visit your Facebook page, they should see it presented in a similar visual style to your websiteonline course or training, and email newsletter. Or, if they contact your customer support via live chat and escalate their ticket to a phone call, they shouldn’t have to repeat the information they submitted in the chat when they move over to the phone channel.

This unity of channels centered around the customer is what separates omnichannel from multichannel, where channels like your storefront or social media pages can operate relatively independently and primarily serve the flexible marketing needs of your product or service.

The philosophy behind going omnichannel is the belief that customers like brand consistency, which in turn has the following benefits:

  • Customers see that you pay attention to small details.
  • They can trust your business since it’s consistent.
  • They become loyal to a business that they trust.

If your brand lacks consistency, customers can begin to suspect that your business is unorganized. By keeping channels integrated and unified, people see that you care about your brand by maintaining a consistent style between your channels.

Even though omnichannel and multichannel might seem similar on the surface, they have major differences that affect the way customers see your company. In short, omnichannel revolves around consistency, while multichannel focuses on flexibility.

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Multichannel vs. omnichannel examples

Apple’s multichannel strategy

When it comes to multichannel, Apple is a great example of using this strategy to focus on the product. While the ‘click and mortar’ giant operates both physical and online stores, even multiple stores, their retail store concept is seen as unique among retail companies. 

Instead of focusing on in-store sales, iStores are, first and foremost, built to complement the company’s ecommerce business, which accounts for most of Apple’s total sales.

Apple is a great example of multichannel strategy

In this way, the tech giant’s physical stores work as separate customer touchpoints that serve the big-picture Apple experience. As such, customers can visit iStores like galleries, without feeling obliged to buy Apple products on the spot.

Beyond using iStores stores for advertising, Apple uses additional channels and services to create demand for its hardware. These include the Apple TV+ streaming platform and the Apple News+ news subscription service, as well as iTunes, which provide the company with extra revenue streams.

This gives Apple the flexibility to pursue different strategies across different marketing channels, which helps the company promote and sell its wide range of products to a diverse set of customers.

Amazon’s omnichannel success

Amazon is everywhere, it’s essential, and it’s all about the customer. By putting the customer first, Amazon has shifted the entire ecommerce industry, forcing other marketers to follow their lead.

Today, many ecommerce businesses, including Amazon sellers, follow the user experience principles that have been introduced and mastered by the company. The ecommerce giant knows every customer who has ever purchased a product from them, and uses their data to provide a user experience that is both personalized and relevant at every single touchpoint.

Amazon's omnichannel marketing strategy

From Amazon One-Click making the process of ordering products online a seamless experience, to Alexa enabling you to make your next purchase by voice, Amazon is the prime example of centering not only your marketing efforts, but also your entire business around the customer.

Amazon’s success shows what omnichannel marketing is really about: it allows customers to connect with a brand through any of their channels. With each of these channels updating in function to the last experience the customer had, each touchpoint and channel creates one seamless journey.

Now, hundreds of millions of customers flock to Amazon because they know they will get a consistent experience that saves them time and money while providing exceptional customer service.

Amazon didn’t invent omnichannel marketing, but they seized upon it when it mattered. As a result, omnichannel is now at the heart of the company’s business model.

Multichannel vs omnichannel ecommerce

If your business has an ecommerce presence, you need to give your customers ways to easily purchase your products. The easier it is for a customer to find your product and place an order, the more likely they are to buy from you again.

Needless to say, using more than one channel to promote your products and services makes it easier for customers to find them. In fact, our analysis of more than 135,000 campaigns sent in 2021 shows that shows just that: ecommerce businesses that used three or more channels had a 494% higher order rate than single-channel strategies.

order rates for single channel vs omnichannel campaigns

Simply put, the more channels you use, the more orders you generate, and staying single-channel means leaving money on the table.

While both multichannel and omnichannel ecommerce strategies involve using multiple marketing channels, the main difference between them is whether or not these sales channels are integrated and working in concert with one another. And unifying those channels into a single experience has a clear advantage over forcing customers to start from scratch every time they land on a new channel.

Since multichannel is based on reinforcing every channel as an independent sales opportunity, a customer can get a disconnected experience as they move across multiple channels and get closer to a purchasing decision.

With omnichannel ecommerce, however, all these interactions are interconnected, and a customer will get a seamless experience regardless of where or how they interact with your brand. Omnichannel makes it easier for them to do so, which in turn helps you make more sales.

Omnichannel vs. multichannel retail

Multichannel retail focuses on getting information to the customer. For example, multichannel retailers want to update their customers about an upcoming deal, so they have each channel inform the customers in hopes of them buying more from the business. This involves each channel creating its own message and getting it out to the customers.

After this, they see how customers react to the changes and adjust their channel accordingly. These changes depend on how the messages and deals affect the metrics of the channel. This can help them to adapt and improve their business based on the information that they collect.

On the other hand, omnichannel retail focuses on the customer and making them the center of the business. Businesses bring their employees together and inform them of the changes. This allows them to focus on keeping things consistent between channels as they apply changes to retail.

abandoned cart message

They can use different omnichannel marketing strategies to adjust their retail according to the needs of the customers. This includes the following tips and strategies, as shown in the link above:

  • Communicate with your workers.
  • Collect customer data and analyze it.
  • Send out targeted messages.
  • Constantly adapt.

By following these simple points, your business puts the customers at the center. You collect data about customers, send out targeted messages to increase metrics, and constantly adapt to their needs.

With this in mind, omnichannel retail can draw in more customers since it focuses on bringing them the products, content, and retail that they want.

Omnichannel vs multichannel: how to choose

Omnichannel vs multichannel marketing (differences)

At first glance, going omnichannel, with its focus on unified branding and a seamless user experience, might seem like the natural choice. But it’s not that simple.

Businesses of all types and sizes have found success with both approaches, so the key is making the right choice depending on the needs of your business.

When should you choose multichannel?

Multichannel can be a good option if you’re short on resources and can’t invest in a full omnichannel approach. Since omnichannel marketing requires more work to implement, you may feel that it’s easier to stick with multichannel marketing because it can still bring good results.

The primary advantage of multichannel is that it offers flexibility by allowing every channel to function on its own. The stakeholders of each channel don’t need to worry as much about communication and can focus on building up their channels.

However, this doesn’t mean that going multichannel is cheap. You’ll still have to have the right tech infrastructure to scale your multichannel operations, with marketing automation software playing a central role in the process to help you handle growth without sacrificing quality.

When should you choose omnichannel?

If done right, omnichannel marketing is a great option for businesses of all sizes, including smaller and growing ecommerce marketers.

While it’s true that going omnichannel can be more resource-intensive in terms of investment and maintenance, the payoff of a successful omnichannel strategy is more than worth it. From smoother user experience and higher customer retention to better sales and greater brand loyalty, omnichannel is the way to go if you’re prepared to do the work.

With a solid start on your marketing strategy, you can create a unified channel that helps customers with their purchases while turning them into returning customers.

Once you decide on the right approach for your business, it’s essential to find marketing software that allows you to implement it the right way.

As a marketing automation platform, Omnisend is built not just for ecommerce, but for brands that want to explore all that omnichannel provides.

Multichannel vs omnichannel marketing: Wrap-up

While they may appear similar at first, omnichannel and multichannel marketing have distinct differences. Multichannel marketing works for businesses that want to expand their ecommerce reach, but omnichannel marketing allows companies to finetune it.

If you go omnichannel, your team will have to put in more work and focus to implement your vision. However, the benefits make it worth that extra work and time if done correctly. As you apply an omnichannel strategy to your online business, you can retain more customers and continue to grow your business.

And with an omnichannel marketing platform like Omnisend, taking your marketing to the next level will be much easier.

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Evaldas Mockus
Article by
Evaldas Mockus

Evaldas is an experienced Search Engine Optimization specialist with a demonstrated history of working in IT and SaaS companies. He is good at data analysis and math.

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